It is 6 pm and I am sitting with the South American ambassador for my monthly dinner. Once a month he invites me without my parents. I am 8 years old and the Cairo community smiles indulgently. He misses his kids is the word around town.
So “my little one” he says with a warm smile. “What have you heard this week?” The reality is that the ambassador discovered the previous year that I visit many of society’s children. Following our escape from Hungary, my parents were invited to Egypt by King Farouk so invitations are not in short supply. Each household has a staff in excess of 30 – governesses, butlers, cooks, maids etc – and they do chatter about what goes on in other households. I love gossip so listen attentively and often share with the ambassador some of the choice tidbits. Tonight, I tell him the story of a party given the previous week by another recently arrived ambassador. The man hired the king’s cook as caterer, thinking only of his expertise. The king crashed the party at 11 PM – as he often did – only to discover that the guests were using the palace china, silver and food provided by his cook. In a fit of rage, he began throwing plates against the wall and everyone took quick cover in adjoining rooms. The ambassador howls with laughter hearing this, as does the serving staff of 3 – so much so, that food from the platters is dripping on the embassy floor!
15 years later I am in Paris working for Coca Cola and representing the firm at a cocktail party. My host says “there is a man charging across the room who wants to talk to you.” I turn around and there is the ambassador whom I have not seen since we made a quick political exit from Cairo 14 years before. “Shoya,” he says with a huge grin. “I have been looking for you for years. I so wanted to tell, you saved my career!” The ambassador, it turns out, had hired the same caterer to do his coming out party the week after our dinner, and promptly cancelled him the following day.
Lesson learned. Always pay attention to those below you. Often they have information that your peers and superiors do not.